Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽'s Reviews > Neverwhere: the Illustrated Edition

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
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really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, england
Read 2 times. Last read October 5, 2017 to October 16, 2017.

Final review: After a multilevel process of reading, commenting and then rereading (see my various updates below), here is the final summation of all my thoughts and feelings about Neverwhere: 4 stars! And read the illustrated version!
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Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:

Neverwhere is a novel that improved dramatically for me on reread, which actually was a surprise to me. I originally read it about six years ago when, in an odd twist worthy of London Below, it mysteriously appeared one day on my clunky Kindle 2, without my having ordered it. About a month later it just as mysteriously disappeared again (luckily I had finished it just in time). I was fascinated by the marvelous and imaginative setting of Neverwhere and London Below, but only mildly entertained by the plot, which ― other than the beginning and the end ― I found quite forgettable.

Still, when I was offered the chance to read a 2016 edition of Neverwhere with the “author’s preferred text” and illustrations by Chris Riddell, whose illustrations make Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle so memorable, I jumped at the chance. It was a wise decision on my part.

Richard Mayhew, the “everyman” character whose impulsive kindness toward a wounded stranger on the street upends his life so dramatically, was a more sympathetic character for me in this reread. He becomes virtually invisible to normal Londoners, like the homeless whose ranks he physically and symbolically joins. Richard takes a chance, following the path of Door, the young girl he saved, down into London Below, a Byzantine setting with a bewildering assortment of fantastically strange characters. The plot is equally disorienting, a labyrinthine quest that takes Richard and his group from one place or contact to another, as Door tries to find out who killed her entire family, and why, and Richard hopes that somehow he’ll be able to regain his normal life in London Above. They’re relentlessly pursued by Croup and Vandemar, a pair of gleefully horrible assassins, whose employer is shrouded in secrecy.

Both the plot and the characters gained clarity and cohesiveness for me on my second read, freeing me to appreciate Gaiman’s wry humor and the intricacies of the story and its setting. I smiled at the family of Lord Portico (despite their tragic fate), who all have portal-related names and the ability to open doors and locks at will. And I understood better the nature of the capricious Marquis de Carabas:
The Marquis de Carabas was not a good man, and he knew himself well enough to be perfectly certain that he was not a brave man. He had long since decided that the world, Above or Below, was a place that wished to be deceived, and, to this end, he had named himself from a lie in a fairy tale, and created himself — his clothes, his manner, his carriage — as a grand joke.
Districts and areas in London become weird characters or morph into something sinister. Hammersmith is a jeweler; Old Bailey (the London Central Criminal Court building) a feather-covered old man who lives on the rooftops; Earl’s Court is really an earl’s court, though an odd one indeed; Knightsbridge (an area of West London named after a crossing of the River Westbourne, now relegated to an underground river) becomes Night’s Bridge, a darkness-shrouded crossing that takes a terrible toll on those who pass. Blackfriars (an area in central London) is the home of the Black Friars, like Brother Sable and Brother Fuliginous. Most interesting to me was the real-world counterpart of the Angel Islington: The Angel, Islington is a historic landmark area (originally an inn called the Angel Hotel) on the corner of Islington High Street and Pentonville Road in Islington, an area of London. (The building is now a bank, but the Angel name has been adopted by an adjacent pub.) This web page is a Google map that links actual London locations to their references in Neverwhere, a fun exercise for those who’ve read this book.

Riddell’s whimsical pencil drawings add greatly to the story. Along with the full page illustrations at the beginning of most chapters, there are countless sketches that wrap around and through the text. Rats peek around the corners of paragraphs; lovely, vampire-ish Velvets eye you from the tops and sides of the pages. It’s entrancing.
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This illustrated edition of Neverwhere also includes Gaiman’s aptly named 2014 short story “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back,” which should be read after the novel. In it we learn more about the Marquis’ family, and meet some characters that were only briefly referenced in Neverwhere, like the sinister shepherds of Shepherd’s Bush.

If you’re going to read any edition of Neverwhere, I strongly recommend this illustrated edition, whether you’re already a fan of London Below and its inhabitants, or are considering checking it out for the first time. Despite some weaknesses in the story, it’s well worth your time to experience this fantastical world, especially as envisioned by Chris Riddell.

Update #2: I'm upping my rating to 4 stars on reread. Neil Gaiman's mix of dark fantasy, whimsy and wry humor is really appealing, and the plot worked far better for me the second time around. Chris Riddell's pencil illustrations wrap their way in and around the text - they're very cool. I liked Richard, the main character, as Everyman, the way London Beneath worked both as a symbol for the homeless and as an amalgamation of different times and places.

Full review to come.

Update #1: So the joke's on me. Even though I only mildly liked this Neil Gaiman fantasy novel the first time I read it several years ago, when it showed up on a $1.99 Kindle sale a couple of months ago I decided to buy it (major splurge there) and try reading it again. Because maybe I read it wrong the first time?

Not four weeks later a publicist emailed me and offered me this new enhanced hardback edition with illustrations by Chris Riddell for review. I LOVED Riddell's illustrations in The Sleeper and the Spindle, so I said yes, and now it's in my hands. So I could have saved my two bucks, but all things considered I think I've definitely come out ahead. :)

We'll see if the reread + Riddell's wonderful pencil drawing illustrations change my initial 3 star rating here.

Initial review: Neil Gaiman's fantasy about a dark, magical London underworld, which exists side by side with our world, left me with mixed feels. The setting is marvelous and fantastical, and Gaiman does a great job creating it. The plot, though, about an ordinary working man who extends compassion to an injured stranger and, as a result, unexpectedly finds himself up to his neck in this strange and dangerous magical world, was forgettable, at least for me.

I read this four or five years ago and, other than the beginning and the end and a couple of cool settings (especially Knight's Bridge/Nightsbridge), I hardly remember anything about this novel. Still, it's Gaiman, and a lot of people love this book.

Interesting personal story: the reason I originally read Neverwhere is because it mysteriously appeared on my Kindle one day, without my having ordered it. About a month later it just as mysteriously disappeared again. Apparently the ebook is magical too!

I received a copy of the 2016 illustrated version of this book from the publisher for review. Thank you!!
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
2011 – Finished Reading
March 8, 2013 – Shelved
August 13, 2017 – Shelved as: fantasy
August 13, 2017 – Shelved as: england
October 5, 2017 – Started Reading
October 5, 2017 –
page 11
2.52% "He continued, slowly, by a process of osmosis and white knowledge (which is like white noise, only more informative), to comprehend the city... London was a good place, and a fine city, but there is a price to be paid for all good places, and a price that all good places have to pay."
October 6, 2017 –
page 86
19.72% "'When I was cleaning up the body ...' And she began to cry, in low, raging sobs, that sounded like they were being tugged from inside her.

'There. There,' said the Marquis de Carabis, awkwardly, patting her shoulder. And he added, for good measure, 'There.' He did not comfort well."
October 6, 2017 –
page 108
24.77% "“What’s happening?” whispered Richard.

“Darkness is happening,” said the leather woman, very quietly. “Night is happening. All the nightmares that have come out when the sun goes down, since the cave times, when we huddled together in fear for safety and for warmth, are happening. Now,” she told them, “now is the time to be afraid of the dark.”"
October 15, 2017 –
page 248
56.88% "The Marquis de Carabas was not a good man, and he knew himself well enough to be perfectly certain that he was not a brave man. He had long since decided that the world, Above or Below, was a place that wished to be deceived, and, to this end, he had named himself from a lie in a fairy tale, and created himself - his clothes, his manner, his carriage - as a grand joke."
October 15, 2017 –
page 339
77.75% "And [it] said nothing, but it smiled, in the manner of a cat who has not only devoured the cream and the canary, but also the chicken you were saving for dinner, and the crème brûlée that would have been dessert."
October 16, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-23 of 23 (23 new)

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Yodamom Sorry you didn't love it. I had a different experience I think it was his reading of it that sold it to me at a higher level. When I read his books I'm not so enamored in his works. I guess i am easy when it comes to a good voice. LOL I hope your next book is a 5 star read


message 2: by Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ (last edited Aug 13, 2017 11:57AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Yodamom wrote: "Sorry you didn't love it. I had a different experience I think it was his reading of it that sold it to me at a higher level. When I read his books I'm not so enamored in his works. I guess i am ea..."

Gaiman's books are hit or miss for me, but the weird thing is that the misses are for very different reasons, depending on the book. Still, I might give this one another shot sometime.


Carmen I also had problems with it. Great review.


Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Carmen wrote: "I also had problems with it. Great review."

Love your review, Carmen!


Amber great review. It was actually a BBC tv miniseries before Gaiman wrote the book for it.


message 6: by Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ (last edited Aug 14, 2017 10:52AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Amber wrote: "great review. It was actually a BBC tv miniseries before Gaiman wrote the book for it."

If I ever knew that, I had totally forgotten it. So maybe the standard-ish plot isn't Gaiman's fault.

ETA: Well, per Wikipedia Gaiman was involved with the series, so I guess I can continue to blame him. ;)


message 7: by Misti (new)

Misti BBC Radio did a radio play of this a few years ago so I listened to it and I liked it in that format. I think it might be because of James McAvoy and Benedict Cumberbatch, though. :)


Kevin Ansbro How great to reread a book that causes you to up your score. Great stuff, Tadiana!


message 9: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Smith Great review Tadiana 😊


Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Kevin wrote: "How great to reread a book that causes you to up your score. Great stuff, Tadiana!"

Miriam wrote: "Great review Tadiana 😊"

Thanks, Kevin and Miriam. I still need to organize my thoughts and write a "proper" review (since it will be posted on FanLit), but I was surprised how much more I enjoyed it the second time around. Would that all books improved so much on reread!


Alexandra There's also a full cast audio production version that looks good. I have it but haven't listened to it yet. Think it may be abridged though. But one of the voice actors is Benedict Cumberbatch so I had to snag it :D


Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Alexandra wrote: "There's also a full cast audio production version that looks good. I have it but haven't listened to it yet. Think it may be abridged though. But one of the voice actors is Benedict Cumberbatch so ..."

Oh, that sounds like fun. You'll have to let me know how you like it!


Alexandra Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ wrote: "Oh, that sounds like fun. You'll have to let me know how you like it! "

Will do :D


message 14: by Maria (last edited Oct 23, 2017 05:44PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Maria Laura I've listened to the BBC dramatization (many times) and I've absolutely loved it! I listened to it before reading the book and I'm certain I wouldn't enjoyed it that much if it had been the other way around. So glad I did! It's great. And I get to listen to Benedict Cumberbatch! :-D


Alexandra Maria wrote: "I've listened to the BBC dramatization (many times) and I've absolutely love it! I listened to it before reading the book and I'm certain I wouldn't enjoyed that much if it had been the other way a..."

Glad to hear it's good Maria, I figured it would be. I've read the book a couple times and really liked it, but it's been several years since my last read.

There's also a BBC production of it that I caught once on TV and thought was pretty good.


Maria Laura Alexandra wrote: "Maria wrote: "I've listened to the BBC dramatization (many times) and I've absolutely love it! I listened to it before reading the book and I'm certain I wouldn't enjoyed that much if it had been t..."

Yes, Alexandra, it is really good, well done and so well performed. It is also a very good adaptation; I see that now that I'm redoing the book.

Yes, I've heard of that production. But I think it was on shown in my country.


Alexandra Maria wrote: "Alexandra wrote: "Maria wrote: "I've listened to the BBC dramatization (many times) and I've absolutely love it! I listened to it before reading the book and I'm certain I wouldn't enjoyed that muc..."

I need to do another read of this one too :D


Maria Laura Well, if you like Benedict Cumberbatch and his lovely voice as I read you do, I recommend that you listen to this BBC dramatizatìon. ;-) James Mcavoy is very enjoyable here too.


Kevin Ansbro Having read the book, I've returned to your review/s, Tadiana.
Superb writing on your part, and such detail. Wonderful.


Elena antastic review, Tadiana! I'm "first-read-you": I too found the worldbuilding impressive, but characters and plot remarkably less so. Your review really makes me want to give it another try in the future though, possibly in its illustrated edition :)


Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Elena wrote: "antastic review, Tadiana! I'm "first-read-you": I too found the worldbuilding impressive, but characters and plot remarkably less so. Your review really makes me want to give it another try in the ..."

Thanks, Elena! The illustrations definitely helped, but even the story itself improved dramatically for me on reread. Good luck with it!


message 22: by Cecily (last edited Mar 13, 2019 06:29AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily Good to see how much more there is than first meets the eye, even to a reader such as you. What a thoroughly insightful review/reviews. The pairing of Gaiman and Riddell is always to be treasured.


message 23: by Violet (new)

Violet wells A friend of mine was urging me to read this yesterday. Great review, Tadiana!


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